On the brink of defeat in the American Hockey League Western Conference Finals, it was time for the Oklahoma City Barons to find another gear. Time to awaken to a world where next week is vastly different than this one. You'll either be beginning a chance to hoist the Calder Cup or a chance to hoist a cup of coffee on your back porch with a full off season in your peripheral. The pride with which the Barons have played throughout the regular season, and again in the postseason, warranted at least the opportunity for them to suddenly "get good" against the Marlies. However, Toronto proved to be the better team over the 5 game stretch, and defeated Oklahoma City 3-1 to end the series.
Simply put, when you're beat you're beat. Despite what the twitterers are screaming I'm here to tell you, the Barons looked defeated in all three games in Toronto. Despite being an excellent road team, and playing the first two games at home (where they split the two), they appeared to be gassed. Yann Danis didn't move as quickly as he had in the early rounds. The forwards (minus a few) were skating with led boots, and leaning on long distance shots. The defenders couldn't take care of the puck, and were constantly on their heels. Don't get me wrong. In those three games there were some highlights, but the low lights outnumbered them.
In the first period, Oklahoma City hit the ice with the same game plan they had in the first two in Toronto -- get the puck in deep, hope for a chance on Ben Scrivens. But beating Scrivens is 90% of the battle, and one that usually tips the scales in his favor. But the mantra of the game was apparently, "play hard, make a mistake, go to the penalty box, pray Toronto doesn't score". And it was yucky from the beginning.
In the first 30 seconds of the game, Dan Ringwald gets whistled for a hook after Toronto's Jake Gardiner wheels by him. And a minute later, Matt Frattin scores his 9th goal of the postseason to take the early 1-0 lead. Suddenly it felt like the Barons were in more trouble, and that Toronto was in the drivers seat. Yann Danis and Ben Scrivens continued their goaltending clinic in the first period, and the 20 minutes end with the Marlies up by a goal.
The second period was highly energized for both clubs. Great scoring chances at both ends. Great goaltending at both ends. Eventually the Barons show life on the scoreboard when Magnus Paajarvi mugs for the puck, and somehow gets it to the goal crease where Chris Vande Velde had parked himself. Scrivens can't react quickly enough and the Barons tie the game with 15 seconds left in the second period.
Then the third period arrived, and the Barons continued to look tired. At the 8:36 mark of the third, Marlies defenseman, Simon Gysbers scores a blue line shot following a strong push by Nicolas Deschamps on the right wing. The Marlies take the lead 2-1.
The Barons threw all that they could towards Ben Scrivens, but it just wasn't meant to be. The Marlies would ice the game with a Matt Frattin empty netter.
Toronto has a chance to continue their fantastic postseason run as they'll meet the Norfolk Admirals in the AHL Calder Cup Finals beginning next week. The best of luck to this solidly prepared club.
For Oklahoma City, it has been quite the season although with an ending that somehow leaves a bittersweet taste in mouths. It just wasn't their moment.
It's hard not to wonder, though, if Yann Danis wasn't a little frail. He just didn't seem to have the agility and reflexes that he had in the better parts of the 11-12 season. I don't pretend to have any insider info on him, nor do I remotely understand the life of goaltending professionally -- but he certainly was off his game. And despite this fact, he still had some incredible moments, and likely kept his team inside of games longer than they would have without him. He's a goaltender that does so many things right, and when he's hot, he's really hot. He'll likely find a spot on a roster quickly this offseason. Where is hard to know, but he's upped his credibility. And that's big for Yann.
It wasn't just Yann that seemed stale. The entire squad couldn't put together 60 minutes of dynamo hockey to save their lives. But credit the Marlies for making the Barons work. The frustration level was easily seen throughout the series.
The Oklahoma City power play went 2 for 25 against the Marlies, and their kill went 4 for 22. The Oklahoma City Barons had more chances to score with a man advantage, but just couldn't get it done. You could argue the loss of Josh Green early, and the absence of Hunter Tremblay late, might have effected these totals. But the Barons were constantly frustrated by the Marlies when with an extra skater. Active sticks, great angle awareness, and, of course, impeccable goaltending were the downfall (at least on the Oklahoma City side of things).
Dallas Eakins had his team ready to go. Todd Nelson probably did as well, but it was Eakins that won the coaching duel. After losing Kadri and Zigomanis it would have been easy to be frustrated by their absence from the lineup. Instead Eakins tweaked the lines to a) continue to match the Barons elite players, with his strong checkers and b) keep OKC guessing constantly. He's a great coach, and wielded the upper hand in the chess match he played with Nelson. Well done sir.
It's been a season to remember in OKC, and for the affiliation with the Oilers. Back-to-back seasons with a postseason birth; one that ended in the West Finals -- that's a successful farm squad. But ultimately it's about the youth, and how they grew as a result of those runs. Tyler Pitlick, Curtis Hamilton, Cameron Abney, Teemu Hartikainen, Anton Lander, Magnus Paajarvi had moments of great promise and moments of clumsiness. But in all, the valuable lessons learned likely overshadow even the best of times. The future on the farm is bright, and here's to a great season in Oklahoma City.